Technology On the Farm

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Although sometimes I hate to admit it, I belong to Gen Y, the Millennials, Generation Next. I do not have a college degree despite the years I spent in college. I spent a period of time cohabitating prior to getting married. I have had access to the internet since I was in high school. I feel that information should be free and, yes, I do believe that I can accomplish anything I put my keyboard to. All of these things tell me that I belong in this generation even though my birth date is on the edge of inclusion. But I try not to let it get to me too much, especially given that for as much as I identify with my generation, I equally dissociate with it.

Yes, I grew up with the internet. I remember when the modem had to sing me the song of its people before I could connect to the wide world of music piracy and endless dirty jokes. I had an email account before I really even knew what that meant. I could use a search engine to answer any question I could think of, so long as I knew how to ask it *just* the right way. And while the rest of my generation may have taken these gifts and run with them in an attempt to better their lives – or whatever it is that normal people aspire to do – I feel like I may as well still be in the dark ages of the internet. For it appears that in my disdain for technology, I may have handicapped my ability to relate to the rest of the world.

Does technology have a role on the farm? This is not one of those rhetorical questions to be followed by anecdotal evidence in the affirmative. I am genuinely asking because I would really like to know. In my experience, certain aspects of technology have been great. There is nothing I cannot accomplish with Google by my side. People say I’m brave; a woman with children, running a farm, sticking a garden hose down a bovine esophagus and cutting testicles out of piglets with one hand tied behind my back. But really, if it weren’t for the false sense of security afforded me by my Google search engine, I probably wouldn’t have done either of those things. Which really begs the question, am I brave or am I just dumb enough to try anything Google says I can do? We don’t need to answer that – and we sure as hell don’t need to ask Google for its opinion on the matter either.

What does Google know anyway? How is it that I have almost based my entire career on an all powerful, all knowing, pain-in-the-butt piece of technology. Have you ever tried to Google something that you *really* needed to know? One day last fall, I was wondering aloud about the reproductive lifespan of heritage breed boars. In other words, how long can I expect to breed my Large Black boar before his fertility rate begins to decline? So I Googled “reproductive lifespan of Large Black boar.” When I received my reply, I could only find links to articles on ‘black bears.’ Hmmmm. Maybe I should try using a different, more common, name associated with the Large Black breed. “Reproductive lifespan of Devon boar,” that ought to do it, no? Now I was being referred to articles on woodlouse. Okay, let’s try “reproductive lifespan of heritage breed boar” shall we? And once again, I am directed to some less than helpful articles – ‘How to Breed Pigs.’ Thank you, Mother Earth News, but I think the boar has that part covered. As a final attempt, I Googled “how long boar make the sexy time.” Score! A few scholarly articles pop up on the reproductive lifespan of commercial and heritage breed hogs – yet after reading them I still don’t really have a solid answer to my question. And even though I am going to have to rely on good old-fashioned first-hand experience to answer my question, I feel as though I have won the internet for the night … or have I?

Of course now if you Google the same terms, it will become apparent that someone is covering their tracks. Why? Because the internet is smart like that. So how much trust should I put into something that throws me for a loop like that? My generation has grown up feeling that because of the internet, anything is possible. Younger generations, however, seem to be of the impression that without the internet, nothing is possible. Clearly, they haven’t tried to find out how long they can breed a Large Black boar using only the internet. Hmph. I guess the lesson with relying on technology in farming is to take everything with a grain of salt. It can be difficult to keep up with the rapid advancements and new applications. I mean, I am just starting to really enjoy this emailing thing and everyone else is already on to texting. With smart phones. I don’t even have a regular cell phone, let alone a smart one. And just the other day, my nearly 80 year old Grandmother sent me a text. Granted, she sent it to my land line … but still, anyone old enough to have the name Annie-Bob that can manage to operate a cell phone with those itty-bitty buttons in a way that actually produces the desired effect … that’s some advanced maneuvering right there.

Don’t get me wrong. I know how to Facebook for personal use and for marketing strategy. I also just joined Instagram … using my eight year old’s iPad. And I joined Twitter. I’m not gonna lie, I still don’t really understand Twitter. I mean, I sort of get it, but not really – lets just say I’m not twitterpated, as it were. But I’m trying. Forget the idea behind showering on a regular basis, or the constant use of soap and deodorant, or this idea that I should wear makeup and clean clothes all the time. But when it comes to technology, to keeping up with my generational peers, I am trying. Heck, maybe it will become as much a part of my routine as my right arm … okay, let’s not go overboard. One step at a time. Maybe I’ll have a cell phone by the time this essay gets published. And surely I will have figured out how to use it within the next year or two …

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The Thing

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The thing that keeps you up at night alongside the phases of the moon,

the thing that turns your stomach into seemingly interminable knots,

the thing that makes you wonder if you are smart enough, strong enough, good enough,

yet it taunts you to hand over every single piece of yourself until there is nothing left to give….

that is the thing you do without question, without fail.

Deutered.

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The Dude has been neutered.

I took him into the vet on Friday…scratch that…I had to drag him in. It wasn’t pretty.

Everyone at the vet’s office LOVES The Dude. 140 lbs of sheer awesome, he is. I walked him to the kennels in the back since he was wary of his new surroundings, then I left wondering if maybe he thought I might never come back.

It was a long day without him by my side.

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But soon he was back home…sans a couple of, ummm, parts.

We still love him without those parts.

The vet office gave us a cone of shame. Unfortunately, it did not fit The Dude who basically wears a belt for a collar.

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It’s okay, though. I’m still putting it to good use.

All I Ask …

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As a farmer, I don’t ask to be celebrated. I don’t ask to be idolized or commemorated, I don’t even ask to be remembered. As a farmer, I don’t ask for high wages or safe working conditions, nor do I ask for promotions or bonuses at the end of each year. As a farmer, I don’t ask for special treatment or subsidies, and I sure as hell don’t ask for Government advice or approval on what I should grow and how I should grow it. As a farmer, all I ask is this: Do you trust me? As a farmer this is the only thing I ask, and I ask it on a daily basis. I ask it of the earth and of the seeds that I place in its womb. I ask it of the livestock to which I tend and the grasses on which they graze. I ask it of my family, of myself, and of my fellow farmers. And lastly, I ask it of you; the consumer. And only after I have asked this question day in and day out for the entirety of a season – only after I have spilled the blood, pulled the roots, and harvested the very personal and very literal fruits of my labor – only then will I know if I have succeeded. And I take it for what it is. I then welcome the snow that comes and wipes my slate clean, the wind that blows my fears down valley, the cold that freezes the inhibitions that may threaten to stall my progress. I exhale. Then, as the wind dies down and the ground begins to warm, I walk out into my fields, amongst my stock, through my barns, through my every day…and I ask that very same question, all over again: Do you trust me?

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If you look back in history, it becomes apparent that different time periods are largely shaped by the issues faced during those times – like Women’s Suffrage in the early 1900’s, Civil Rights during the 50’s-60’s, and LGBT Rights at the turn of the century and onward. If you were to ask me what the issue of today is, I would say Food Freedom. Hands down. Whether or not you agree that this freedom is at stake, I can almost guarantee that you firmly believe in your right to choose what you utilize to nourish your own body. The simple fact of the matter is that not everyone is allowed to make that choice. From mono-cropped organic fruits and veggies to factory-farmed animal proteins, the road is an easy one for consumers. But what if you want to buy small? Local? Raw? Count your blessings for what you can get – because it may be few and far between. The truth is that our current model of production in agriculture is a travesty. In the same way that driving down the interstate, from coast to coast, can produce the same, monotonous food culture – our agriculture has become a setting on a clothes-dryer, a combo meal at a fast food chain, a cheap stand-in for traditional and regional delicacies that once made our landscape a beautiful quilt of enjoyable experiences and past-times. Maybe you didn’t see it coming, maybe you don’t even notice it now, but it is here. If only we could drive across the US and find food specific to the ways of life in the varied regions we encountered: fat Southern pork grown on corn and whey, lean Western beef grazed on prarie and high alpine grasslands, and succulent citrus, fruits, and veggies grown responsibly in the Mediterranean climates along the southern Pacific coast. Yet the people that choose to consume local, raw foods meet the brunt end of laws aimed at ensuring safety among the biggest and least-accountable producers in agriculture today. It hardly makes sense.

My little buddy.

My little buddy.

Our current model of agriculture is aimed at reducing consumer freedoms and supporting the giant corporations that control production. From GMO’s to crop subsidies and animal protein monopolies to USDA processing requirements, Big Ag is a machine that works to produce cheap food at any cost. From CAFO’s polluting our water supply to subsidized monocropping that depletes our soil of its nutrients, Big Ag is propped up by cheap prices, pushed for by corporate lobbyists, and made possible by government subsidies and legislation. Where does the small producer fit into this model? Even in states that allow small scale production and direct-to-consumer sales of certain agricultural products, many small farmers are left wondering why they are forced to conform to laws aimed at large-scale commercial producers. What, really, is the difference between selling a herd share for raw milk and selling one gallon at a time to multiple consumers? Why am I allowed to eat beef and pork processed at a state-inspected butcher shop, but my customers can not. How is it that GM crops and products require no labeling whatsoever, but in order to be certified Organic, producers must jump through a series of hoops, fees, and paperwork? Why are we asked to trust in the safety of CAFOs when they won’t even let you in the door to view their operations? Our current model of agriculture doesn’t bother asking if you trust it…it demands it, from behind closed doors.

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When it comes to small scale farming, women are leading the way in production and sustainability. With the average age of the American farmer nearing 60 years of age, new farmers are a valuable asset to the world of agriculture. Women make up just over 30% of all farm operators according to the last two census reports, and over 40% in the developing world. Women are more likely to operate small, diversified, family farms – much like the farms that heavily dotted the American landscape not too long ago. Research shows that when women earn a steady income, they will spend 80-90% of that income on education, nutrition, and housing for their families. Empowering women farmers not only benefits our current state of production in agriculture, but it also serves to benefit the children, families, and communities to which these women belong. Crops and livestock also benefit from a growing number of women in the field since women operators are more likely to adapt sustainable and humane practices into their techniques. As a woman farmer, I can attest to the trials of setting up shop in a male-dominated vocation.

The Crowded Acre: the early days.

The Crowded Acre: the early days.

My work is often discounted due to the small size of my operation. I am not always taken seriously when I tell people what I do for a living, especially when I also admit to being a homeschooling mother-of-three. And, unfortunately, it’s not just men that give me a hard time, I get it from women too. Other women have a difficult time understanding why I would commit so much time to the physically demanding, filthy job of raising food when I could just stay perfectly manicured and purchase it from a store. I have literally been labeled as ‘crazy’ for choosing this lifestyle. In this day and age, when we witness a man working a demanding job, raising his family, and contributing to his community, he’s a pillar of society – but when we witness a woman doing it, she’s just plain nuts. But this is what I love most about other women farmers I have had the pleasure of getting to know: they are all heart and soul, will and must, try and try again…maybe even a little crazy. Go ahead and tell us we can’t, or shouldn’t, or won’t. I double-dog-dare you.

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So how can women help to lead agriculture back to its roots? By building community around our local food systems and taking charge of the process from production to consumption. By stating that the size of my landholding does not dictate the size of my womanhood or my agricultural prowess. By putting the power back into the hands of the local consumer as well as the small-scale producer. By showing that small, diversified farms can be just as productive as large farms, if not more so. By realizing that dreams aren’t bought with a price tag and a take-out box, they are fought for in bloody battles that leave you sweating and broken and proud. By jacking up your manicure and getting dirt under your nails with a garden in every yard and a cow in every cul-de-sac. Let us learn that by demanding food freedom, we are taking back one of the most basic of human rights; the right to nourish ourselves. Start a seed library. Build a root cellar. Support your local butcher. Change the way you eat. Start by walking out the door, down the street, and up the drive of your nearest farm and let that farmer ask you in earnest, “Do you trust me?” Do you trust me to take care of the earth and its inhabitants? Do you trust me to keep a strong mind and a steady heart? Do you trust me to respect the food that I raise and to treat it justly? Do you trust me to learn from my mistakes and admit when I am wrong? Do you trust me to keep at it until I get it right? Do you trust me? … Then look them in the eye and answer – quite simply – “Yes.”

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If you would like to help me to build community around my local food system, please visit: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sweet-roots-festival to learn more about the Sweet Roots Festival. Thank you.

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Sweet Roots Festival

Sweet Roots logo

The Sweet Roots Festival is a go. We have just launched our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sweet-roots-festival The campaign page has a lot of good info about the Festival and about why it is so important to promote/encourage/assist women on the land. I ask that you donate if you can, to help the Festival get on its feet so it can fund itself next year, and the year after that, and the year after that… We will also be contributing a lot of money to women in agriculture on a global and local level. We are partnering with FarmHer, WFAN, Food Tank and others to spread this message loud and clear. And if you happen to be in the area the first weekend of June, swing on by, we would love to see you there.

Birthday Parties

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I’m a big fan of a good birthday party.

Especially one you can bring a gift of baby chicks to…even if you have to stop on the side of the road and dispatch one of the chicks with a swift boot heel because it was accidentally squirshed by an unknowing boy-child in the back of the truck. Oooops.

…Nothing to see here folks. Just an exercise in farmgirl mercy. Move it along…

I also like the kind of party when you have to debate, as a family, whether to bring the four-year-old birthday girl a princess dress, chicken fingers, or a grass-fed T-bone steak. Obviously the princess dress is the safest bet. But you also bring more chickens, because it’s becoming your “thing.”

…I’m still going to cook her a T-bone the next time they come over…

Given our track record of bringing chickens to birthday parties, I hope we continue to get invitations…

I think what I’m trying to say is that I love having good, solid friends. The kind that have kids that get along with your kids so well that you hardly notice you are seriously outnumbered by little people. It doesn’t even matter that you have to slaughter a small animal just to feed all of you for a single meal – the company is worth it, hands down. The kind that have kids that know the difference between straw and hay, and they play with chicken feet – even after they have been removed from the chicken. The kind that, no matter where or when you meet, the whiskey flows as thick as the curse words. And laughter. The laughter is as good as it gets. The laughter is the best part.

You secretly hope that one of your kids will marry one of their kids. That it will seal you as family. Solidify a lifelong relationship that will carry you through the years.

Until then, you will share stories, tears, laughter, and chickens…as friends.

Once the children marry, you will bring chickens over with or without a birthday party invitation…

Ahhhh, yesssssssssss.

Fall Fun

We took last week off of school so we could complete some projects in the barn and prepare for our annual Barnival celebration. I have lots of photos from this year’s event – our third year running – but that will be another post. We had lots of fun, as always, and are already looking forward to next year’s event.

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Just two days before the Barnival, we welcomed our last babies of the year. Tuzigoot, one of our NGD does had a set of doeling twins. The whole family was there to witness it and boy was it a sight to behold.

In the throes of labor.

In the throes of labor.

We had a doeling born to our other NGD doe, Grace a few weeks earlier. So now each of the kids has a doeling to raise up and care for. Toula Mae was the first doeling, she belongs to Maya.

Sweet Toula Mae out of Sweet Grace x Bandelier.

Sweet Toula Mae out of Sweet Grace x Bandelier.

The twins belong to the boys. The first born is Frost, she is Walden’s baby.

Frost.

Frost.

The second born is Nelly. She is Wyatt’s little dairy goat.

Nelly.

Nelly.

Aren’t they adorable? So is this guy.

My little buddy.

My little buddy.

And these two.

Esperanza and Grace, final days before weaning.

Esperanza and Grace, final days before weaning.

And the fourteen of these guys (not all pictured).

Snuggle piggles.

Snuggle piggles.

Oh fall…how I love you so.

Fall Field Trip

We have started the homeschool year in earnest. We are still waiting for the birth of a fall NDG kid, putting the garden to bed, stacking hay, and working hard to wean the filly from the mare … but it was high time we started our school year before it got too late in the season. And what better way to do that than with a field trip to Aspen Ridge.

Valley view.

Valley view.

We always park at the same spot every year and hike up into the aspens for a picnic lunch. This year, the kids were identifying the wildflowers and helping me pick rose hips. I think this is the first year we didn’t have to carry one of the kids in a backpack.

Up the road to the trail.

Up the road to the trail.

After we made our way up into the aspens, we stopped at our favorite clearing for lunch. We identified some baby bear scat nearby, but didn’t see any tracks.

Little bear.

Little bear.

After lunch we found a tree to climb, just like a bear would do. We each took turns going as high as we could muster.

The boy bears.

The boy bears.

It made Mama Bear and Papa Bear long for the good ol’ days of rock climbing.

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Maybe on the next field trip, we will travel up to the granite crags on the pass and pretend to be mountain goats.

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After showing the kids “how it’s done,” we walked back down through the thickest parts of the aspens. Well, most of us walked…

Who says bears can't piggy back?

Hitchin’ a ride.

And we explored the forest floor.

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And we ran through every clearing we came across.

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And we hugged the beautiful, showy trees as they waved goodbye to us in the wind.

Tree-hugger bear.

Tree-hugger bear.

Then we found ourselves back at our favorite overlook of our favorite valley.

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And we snapped a quick family photo before heading down into the valley to pick up our CSA veggies from Farmer Beth. The kids lovingly refer to her veggies as ‘Bethetables’ or ‘Beggies’ for short.

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See ya later Aspen Ridge.

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Maybe I will blog more about homeschooling this year. I have considered trying to blog more regularly so I can make sure to cover the common things as well as the sensational-tearjerking-jump-for-joy stuff. We shall see….

Look for the Heart

I have been organizing meetings and get-togethers for my women farmers group, The Farmers Femme, now for six months.

When I first had the idea to start the group, I asked my friend and fellow woman farmer, Beth, if she thought it was a good idea. She agreed that it was. Then we spent the next hour trying to figure out exactly WHO to invite! Since then, the group has grown to over 20 members in a few short months. This may not sound like much if you live in the city…but in a rural area, encompassing a 100-mile diameter foodshed, we have over 20 woman-run farms thriving and supporting one another! Yay!

Of course there are some pretty amazing men supporting some of us ladies – and they are not to be forgotten. But when you look for the heart of it all, you will find a woman. I have found many women I am proud to call friends in my quest to gain support in my agricultural endeavors. From North Carolina to California, I have found women willing to help me or support me or befriend me simply for the fact that we share a simple love of the land and the animals that roam it. I couldn’t be more grateful for these women than I am right now, especially as I set to work planning the first annual celebration of women in agriculture (perhaps a different official name) to grace the stages of Buena Vista, Co.

So if you happen to be lucky enough to know a woman farmer of any pace – from the walk of the homestead to the gallop of the commercial farm – give her a hug and let her know just how awesome she is!

How To Celebrate Your 32nd Day of Birth

How To Celebrate Your 32nd Day of Birth:

1. Travel to Hartsel to pick up your favorite (and only remaining) Jersey heifer after she has spent the summer galavanting with her beau.

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2. Spend a little time with her as you eat a picnic lunch because you have missed her for the past two months. Obviously, she has missed you…errr, the grass….as well.

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3. Take her over to the wet meadow (because you assume that is where the other cows will be) and spin with your arms stretched out in a “Hills-Are-Alive” type moment. Tripping over a clump of grass and landing in the mushy marsh is optional….for some. (Unfortunately, I had no say in the matter.)

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4. Have an “Oh shit” moment when you realize the cows are nowhere to be found. Hike across 100-acres looking for the damn cows. Pick flowers along the way and give the flowers curse-word-nicknames because you are pretending each little flower is one of your stupid missing cows.

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5. Find the cows in the pasture with the horses (hehehehe, the horse-boarders really hate that) and walk Honey Bunny over to the crew. Hope that by introducing Honey Bunny back into the mix (the oldest cow in the little herd) that she will take charge as lead cow and you will no longer find ALL of your cows randomly meandering down the county road at absurd times.

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6. Take a good look at the little calf you saved two years ago on Mothers Day. Alan has turned into quite the little man. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back for that.

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7. Play tickle-monster on your way back to the truck, trying to stay ahead of the rain storm rolling in. Win tickle-monster because you are bigger and smarter than a group of children ages 3-8. It is never too soon to start teaching them how to lose….also, you like winning.

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8. Travel up into the mountains to a secret location for picking wild raspberries. Curse when the car in front of you pulls into the exact same secret location. Follow up with the standard “Mommy didn’t just say _____” so you can maintain your good-parent-status.

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9. Pick raspberries in the freezing rain and attempt to identify mushrooms with your mushroom book. All the mushrooms you see are poisonous….make the wise decision to stick to raspberries. Head back to the car when you can no longer feel your fingers.

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10. Wash raspberries for use on Birthday cake. Witness male species making said cake and decide to eat it anyways, choosing to ignore any non-cake-like-textures you may or may not come across.

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11. Drink beer, eat a garden-fresh tomato like an apple, snuggle with your favorite duckle, hug your kids, eat a steak you raised with your bare hands, and when the sun is down and the moon is up, make fire with your husband who has been away for the past three weeks, look forward to your next trip around the sun…you wouldn’t want to be anywhere but here…

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